As anime fans, we’re exceptionally lucky: every three months, there’s a massive influx of new anime to choose from. Not all of these are a hit, though. So what really separates the best from the rest? We examined some of the most popular anime from the last few years (My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, Yuri!! On ICE, Sangatsu no Lion, Shinsekai Yori, and Made in Abyss) to see what all of these blockbuster anime have in common.
1. Compose a Stellar Soundtrack
Your show’s OP is the first thing most viewers see of your show and it’s a great opportunity to help set the tone before a single word of dialogue is spoken. Sure, you could have a generic bubblegum-pop intro but think about how you could use the OP to your advantage. For instance, Attack on Titan’s Sasageyo mimicked military songs and national anthems and is instantly recognisable. You could also use musical stings to invoke an emotional response, like Clannad did with the unforgettable and haunting Dango Daikazoku.
2. Have an Exciting New Premise (Or Put a Fresh Spin on an Old One)
Anime viewers are notoriously harsh critics. If they feel like they’ve seen your show before, they’ll just turn it off. All of the major hits of the last few years have had a premise not often seen in anime: figure skating, shogi, hell, Made in Abyss showed that even exploring a really big hole can make for a tense and exciting.
The major outlier here is My Hero Academia; despite being the kind of shonen show we’ve all seen already, it did a lot differently. Instead of moving from one villain to the next week in, week out, it focused on the personal relationships and the question of what it really means to be a hero. With its third season still airing, clearly, this seems to be working.
3. Don’t Skimp On the Animation
The common thread linking all of these shows is immediately obvious: they’re all visually stunning. Even Sangatsu no Lion manages to be gorgeous, despite having fairly standard character animations, thanks to its beautiful watercolor-style backgrounds. You don’t have to be Makoto Shinkai as long as something about your animation style draws the viewer in. Even chibi sprites will work: look at Lucky Star – minimal effort on the characters, huge emphasis on the backgrounds and framing.
4. Make Your Audience Cry
This might seem counterintuitive, but if a show impacts you emotionally, it means that the writers have connected with you to the point that you identify with the characters. Simply, there’s a reason shows like Anohana, Clannad, and Plastic Memories are classics: they know exactly how to make you feel like more than a bystander.
This is the most important point. You can do everything else perfectly, but if your script feels forced, it’s all for nothing. You’ll have to skilfully weave and resolve plot threads, manage the pacing, and keep the audience hooked. Ultimately, if the fans aren’t begging for more, you’re doing something wrong.